German Army (1935–1945)

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German soldier with Stahlhelm

The German Army (1935–1945) (German: Heer) was the land forces component of the Wehrmacht made up mainly of infantry, but also of artillery, pioneer, Panzer troops etc. from 16 March 1935 to 8 May 1945 (de facto) respectively 20 September 1945/20 August 1946 (de jure). The German name is similar to Deutsches Heer, the name of both the modern German Army (Bundeswehr) and German Army (German Empire). See also Reichswehr, which included the Reichsheer.


"Handbook on German Military Forces" (US War Dep 1945): Plate VII – German Army (WW2 Wehrmacht Heer): Specialty badges (NCOs and enlisted men); worn on lower left arm; upper left arm; Musician's badges on both shoulders; Markmanship awards (Schützen- and Scharfschützenabzeichen).
Color Plate depicting German Army rank insignia, from US War Dept Handbook (1943)
After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles abolished conscription in Germany, reduced the size of the German army to 100,000 volunteer troops, sharply limited Germany’s surface fleet, outlawed its submarine fleet, and forbade the creation of a German air force. When Adolf Hitler rose to power as chancellor of Germany in 1933, he moved quickly to roll back these restrictions. He began developing German military aviation under the cloak of civilian production, and he worked with manufacturers to expand German military capacity. Krupp, for example, masked its tank program under the guise of tractor construction. After the death of Pres. Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the offices of president and chancellor were merged, and Hitler became supreme commander of German armed forces. German Minister of War Werner von Blomberg, an ardent Hitler supporter, changed the oath of service for German troops; rather than pledging to defend the German constitution or the fatherland, they now swore unconditional obedience to Hitler. On March 16, 1935, Hitler reintroduced conscription, effectively making public his previously clandestine rearmament program. The German army would be increased in size to 550,000 troops, and the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic would be renamed the Wehrmacht. While the term Wehrmacht would most often be used to describe German land forces, it actually applied to the entire regular German military. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW; Wehrmacht High Command) was designed to exercise command and control of the three branches of the Wehrmacht—the Heer (army), the Luftwaffe (air force), and the Kriegsmarine (navy)—each of which had its own high command.[1]


The official dissolution of the Wehrmacht began with the German Instrument of Surrender of 8 May 1945. Reasserted in Proclamation No. 2 of the Allied Control Council on 20 September 1945, the dissolution was officially declared by ACC Law No. 34 of 20 August 1946.[2][3]

Ranks (Wehrmacht)

Soldiers and NCOs

Mannschaften (Men):

  • Soldat – The term Soldat was generic; most soldiers had a rank title based on the type of unit they were assigned to, or the trade in which they were employed (Reiter, Schütze, Pionier, Grenadier, Jäger and so on.
  • Obersoldat/Ober(-trade) – This grade was automatic upon one year's service. However, most soldiers in the German Army could be expected to reach Gefreiter in less than a year's time - the conclusion to draw is that anyone being made an Oberschütze, Oberpionier, Oberkanonier etc. probably was not considered a promising soldier.
  • Gefreiter – The rank of Gefreiter did not denote a non-commissioned officer in any sense of the word; he had no command authority and the rank he wore represented a raise in pay and little else.
  • Obergefreiter
  • Stabsgefreiter – An Obergefreiter with more than six years' of service

Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (Junior Non-Commissioned Officers); Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee means "NCO without Portepee", or in other words, those that did not carry swords or wear sword knots:

  • Unteroffizier
  • Unterfeldwebel

Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (Senior Non-Commissioned Officers); Unteroffiziere mit Portepee means "NCO with Portepee", or in other words, those that did carry swords and wear sword knots:

  • Feldwebel
  • Oberfeldwebel
  • Stabsfeldwebel[4]


Kompanieoffiziere (Company-Grade Officers):

  • Leutnant (2nd Lieutenant)
    • Assistenzarzt (Medical Branch), Veterinär (Veterinary Branch), Leutnant der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch), Musikmeister (Director of Music)
  • Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant)
    • Oberarzt (Medical Branch), Oberveterinär (Veterinary Branch), Oberleutnant der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch), Obermusikmeister (Director of Music)
  • Hauptmann (Captain)
    • Rittmeister (Cavalry/Reconnaissance/Horse-Drawn Supply Troops), Stabsarzt (Medical Branch), Stabsveterinär (Veterinary Branch), Hauptmann der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch), Stabsmusikmeister (Director of Music)

Stabsoffiziere (Field-Grade Officers):

  • Major
    • Oberstabsarzt (Medical Branch), Oberstabsveterinär (Veterinary Branch), Major der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch), Musikinspizient (Inspector of Music)
  • Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)
    • Oberfeldarzt (Medical Branch), Oberfeldveterinär (Veterinary Branch), Oberstleutnant der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch), Obermusikinspizient (Inspector of Music)
  • Oberst (Colonel)
    • Oberstarzt (Medical Branch), Oberstveterinär (Veterinary Branch), Oberst der Feldgendarmerie (Military Police Branch)

Generäle (Generals):

Weapons and engineering officers of the Wehrmacht

Weapons and engineering officers of the Wehrmacht, (German: Waffen- und Ingenieuroffiziere der Wehrmacht) together with the medical and veterinary officers of the Wehrmacht, were part of the special career paths for officers (special officer corps) of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. The weapons officers (Waffenoffiziere; W.Offz; W) of the Kriegsmarine, like every sea officer on board, had Abitur. The Heer and Luftwaffe, on the other hand, did not require such a diploma, but did require high technical skills. The engineering officers (Ingenieuroffiziere; Ing.) were trained academic and technical specialists; the next generation consisted exclusively of Gymnasium graduates.

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